SAN FRANCISCO — Emergency closure of offshore state rockfish and lingcod fisheries is necessary to offset high early season catches and protect the species from dangerous overfishing, state Department of Fish and Game officials said Wednesday.
The department has recommended the closure to the Fish and Game Commission and an announcement is expected Friday on whether the fishing will be banned from some offshore sport fisheries south of Cape Mendocino all the way down California’s coast.
Only waters deeper than 120 feet would be off limits. Nearshore fishing in more shallow waters along the coast and in shallow offshore water near rocks and islands will not be restricted. All commercial offshore fishing of the species was stopped Oct. 1.
The closure is aimed at protecting bocaccio and canary rockfish, which in June were projected to exceed their annual commercial and recreational limits of roughly 220,400 pounds and 48,488 pounds, respectively. The daily sport limit was two bocaccio at least 10-inches in length and one canary rockfish per fisherman. For lingcod, the limit was two fish beyond 26 inches per fisherman and 1,121,836 pounds for the commercial and recreational annual limit
Bocaccio and canary rockfish are typically found in deep water, and although lingcod are not endangered, they also are off limits to sports fishermen because they are usually found in the same depths as rockfish. The restriction eliminates the chance of catching rockfish instead of the desired lingcod, said Steve Wertz, a fish and game marine biologist.
“Both species are considered overfished and this is the second year for a rebuilding plan for bocaccio and the first for canary,” Wertz said. “It isn’t a pretty situation for those species.”
Curt Degler of the United Anglers Nearshore Chapter in Santa Rosa said he’s been scuba diving and spear fishing in California’s waters for 25 years and has never seen such a decline in the number of fish. While he’s happy with the department’s intervention, he fears it will push more commercial and recreational fishermen to shallow water where they will continue to take rockfish and lingcod.
“I completely stopped (spear fishing) about a year ago, and prior to that I was losing my heart for it,” he said. “I just didn’t feel right about it. I wasn’t seeing them. I’m not going to add to the problem.”